ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS)–This week, Christians over the world celebrated Palm Sunday, the day Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey to the praise of His disciples. Many churches hand out palm branches on this day as a symbolic reference to the act. But this year is a palm-less Sunday, due to social distancing of the COVID-19 crisis. In the place of palm leaves, I suggest we turn our palms upward to God in praise and outward to help others. Why? Because though there’s a lot of pain in the world today, Jesus understands our suffering well.
In this teaching, we’ll look at the Palm Sunday passage through the lens of our present problems. To get the most from the material, read Luke 19: 28-44.
Joy Turned to Mourning
The prophet Isaiah said the Messiah would be “a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Jesus fits this description well. Jesus could also have been called the “Man of holiness,” for He lived a perfect life; or a “Man of love,” for no one was kinder; or a “Man of peace,” because He sought reconciliation.
But Jesus’ suffering is how we understand His life as He arrived in Jerusalem and looked to the cross. Though there is rejoicing in Luke 19:37-38, the crowd’s joy turns to Jesus’ crying (v. 41).
How did this happen so fast—turning from joy to mourning?
The answer: Jesus’ followers were happy because they didn’t understand the truth.
They were misinformed that their Messiah would be a political rescuer, not a suffering redeemer. The next few days would not turn out the way they imagined. What began with a rejoicing crowd ended with a rugged cross.
Consider three truths about this Man of sorrows.
Jesus had been around suffering His whole time on earth. He lived around disease, death, and destitution. Jesus had just come from Jericho where He had healed two blind men, one named Bartimaeus (Matthew 20:29-34; Mark 10:46-52). Before that, Jesus healed ten lepers (Luke 17:11-14).
My point: Jesus understood pain. He had been around the blind, lame, deaf, sick, demon-possessed, and dead. After all, Jesus did say He came to preach the good news to “the poor and brokenhearted” (see Luke 4:18).
Rather than remain in heaven, detached from His creation, Jesus emptied Himself and “took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being” (Philippians 2:7, NLT).
This fulfilled the prophecy that the Messiah, Immanuel, would be “God with us” (see Isaiah 7:14).
Jesus gave up glory—praising angels and intimate fellowship with the Father—for us.
That’s why we can come confidently to Jesus in our suffering—because He knows what it’s like (see Hebrews 4:14-16). We have a representative in heaven who knows the pain of life on earth; we have a Creator who put on the shoes of His creation and walked with us.
Jesus Embraced His Suffering
Not only did Jesus enter into humanity’s suffering, He came specifically to Jerusalem to suffer, fulfilling several prophetic passages (including Psalm 118 and Zechariah 9).
Why on a donkey? To fulfill the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9. Kings rode to war on horseback but on donkeys in times of peace. Jesus came as a humble servant to die on the cross and bring people into a state of peace with God.
At His first coming, Jesus entered Jerusalem on a humble donkey’s colt. At His second coming, He’ll arrive to conquer on a white horse (see Revelation 19:11-16), shifting from meek to magisterial.
Before He rode into Jerusalem, Jesus had never allowed a public presentation of Himself as Messiah. Up to this point, Jesus had often dissuaded people from proclaiming His majesty, miracles, and mission. He often withdrew Himself from the fanfare or asked those He healed not to tell anyone.
Now, Jesus’ hour had come—to be the perfect sacrificial Lamb.
The timing of all this fulfilled yet another prophecy as predicted in Daniel 9:24-26 (the Seventy Weeks prophecy). On April 6, 32 AD—the 10th of Nissan—the very day Daniel predicted Messiah would come, Jesus presented Himself as Messiah and embraced the suffering that would follow.
This is incredible. As one theologian stated, “Christianity is the only major religion to have as its central event the humiliation of its God.”
I would add that no other religion has even anticipated the humiliation of its God! And yet, Jesus’ death was predicted by prophets and even Jesus Himself (see Matthew 16, for example).
Imagine if you knew the exact day and time you’d die. You would definitely live differently.
John 12 records the same series of events, but gives us a peek into Jesus’ personal pain: “Now My soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save Me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour” (v. 27).
The Greek word for “troubled” means “agitated emotionally and spiritually, disturbed, upset, and unsettled.”
Why was Jesus so agitated? Because He was contemplating the physical horror of the cross, the separation from the Father as the sins of the world were dumped on His sinless soul (see 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Hebrews 12:2).
This was the time that Jesus had been born for—and He’d known it all His life. From the gifts of the Magi (gold for a king, frankincense for a priest, and myrrh for one born to die), the cross always loomed ahead of Him.
But because Jesus knew that the cross was the ladder to heaven, He embraced God’s will and entered into a suffering unlike anything anyone has ever known.
Jesus Predicted More Suffering
The celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry was interrupted when, in the midst of rejoicing, the hero stops and weeps.
When Jesus wept over Jerusalem, the word for “wept” means He burst into tears and wept audibly. He was heartbroken that His own people had missed who He really was.
If you think that God doesn’t care about our suffering world, soak in this scene—because this is the heart of God.
He looks downward and sees a city oppressed; He also looks inward into our empty hearts; and He looks forward to Jerusalem’s future and the fall of the temple at Roman hands in AD 70.
That leads us to a more serious issue than the coronavirus: Are you really saved?
We’re focused (and not without reason) on the 56,000+ deaths COVID-19 has caused (thus far)—but that’s just a fraction of all the deaths happening on any given day.
Though we hate to be reminded, death is a reality: almost 25,000 died today from heart disease; another almost 27,000 died from cancer. Diabetes claimed 4,300 lives today, and mosquitoes took another 2,700.
Jesus told a man He healed, “See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you” (John 5:14).
What could possibly be worse than lifelong suffering? Eternal suffering. A disease may rob you of the best years of your life, but sin will rob you for eternity.
My advice? Repent, turn to Christ, and allow the Redeemer to rescue your life.
Practice Your Faith
To help internalize these points taught in this article, put into practice the principles below.
Connect Up: God sees your future. He knows your choices, the path you’ll take, and He cares about the decisions you make every day. Make time today to connect with Him. Start in the morning by putting the day ahead into His hands, and give Him editing rights over your life. Praise Him for His faithful goodness and mercy, and let Him know what you’re struggling with. He knows how you feel, and He sympathizes with your suffering.
Connect In: Look out for your fellow believers. Stay in touch with your Connect Groups and others you know through ministry or fellowship. Check in with them, pray with them, and maybe even put them in touch with Calvary’s Kindness Campaign if they need food or hygiene supplies (call the front desk at 505-344-0880 for assistance).
Connect Out: Don’t be afraid to reach to unsaved people from work or your neighborhood who may be suffering. You can listen to their concerns, ask to pray for them, and offer such help as you are able to provide—perhaps even connecting them to a pastor at Calvary. You may never know what a difference you could make for someone teetering between life and death. As Augustine said, can you “mourn a body from which the soul has departed, and not a soul from which God has departed?”
 Bruce L. Shelley, Church History in Plain Language (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996 ed.), 3.
 Augustine, Sermons: The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century, Vol. III (Brooklyn: New City Press, 1991), 196.